An interview with Michael Tecle, Electrical Engineer from Charlotte, NC by Angela Dove
While I was working on my degree in Electrical Engineering, the International Student Advisor at Western Carolina University explained that there was this international cultural organization close by and asked if I’d be interested in an internship with Folkmoot. I knew there was a lot I could do to help out: besides knowledge of engineering, I am from Eritrea in East Africa, so I enjoy learning about other countries and can speak multiple languages—I am now up to four languages and can understand another ten—so I applied. That was in 2012.
I worked there for three months and saw many ways I could be helpful. As an engineer, I could figure out some about their sound system, which at that time needed lots of help, so I said, “Hey, why don’t I fix that for you?” Then, during the festival, I could communicate with a lot of groups even if they didn’t speak English. I know what that feels like: when I first came to the United States, I didn’t know any English. The main thing for them, what is most important, is to show their culture through sound. I can communicate with the performers and can also help them present their culture how they want to. Since that first year, I have helped out as Lead Sound Engineer every year except for one.
I enjoy every single minute I’ve been involved. Staying in the dorms with the different groups has given me friends in every country in the world. The year I was unable to assist with the festival was because I was studying in Germany, and while I was there I met up with Folkmoot friends from France and the Netherlands. Also some from Serbia.
A lot of people don’t have that kind of cultural experience. At the colleges I have attended, my classmates don’t know where my country is, or what languages I speak. That is true for many of the other international students as well. Many of the local students have spent their lives surrounded by people just like them, so of course that is what they consider normal. They cannot get the feeling of how other countries and cultures are different than their own.
Folkmoot is teaching people that different cultures are just as important as their own, and are to be respected. It teaches people to be open-minded. When people come to something like Folkmoot, I see it! I see their brains expand: they change their minds about different cultures, and they learn more love than hate.
Now that I have graduated, I still make sure I can take my vacations during the festival so I can help out. For me, it’s about the whole experience. I can help to make other people happy, and help their minds to expand.
Michael and his family will be hosting Folkmoot’s Eritrean Friendship Dinner on November 5th.